Sunday, April 17, 2016

Obscura Day Houdini Escapes DC-Update

Atlas Obscura hosted a fun event yesterday in Washington D.C. that they called Houdini Escapes D.C.. The event showcased Houdini's many visits to D.C.. It was a two hour event that began with a viewing of Ken Trombly's Houdini collection. Ken also spoke for about 45 minutes about Houdini and his collection. Unfortunately, I missed this part, but I have seen parts of Ken's collection in the past and it's incredible!

And thanks to Brian Suddeth, who was present, I can share some photos from Ken's presentation.
As I mentioned, Ken has an incredible Houdini collection. I was blown away by all the posters he had the first time I saw them in his home. At the event he shared some of those posters and  he also shared some smaller photos during his talk. The photo to the right shows Houdini's Metamorphosis poster, his King of Cards Poster, and one of my favs, the Prison Cell and Barrel Mystery Poster. I'm sure Ken gave information about each of the posters.

The next photo from Ken Trombly's talk shows him holding a photo of Houdini and Teddy Roosevelt. This is a classic photo. Long before Photoshop existed, Houdini was altering photos! The actual photo has several people on both sides of Houdini and Roosevelt. But Harry, had them all painted over so it looked like he was the only one standing next to Teddy.

It's ironic that Ken showed that photo, because I had planned to share the story about Houdini meeting Roosevelt on board the SS Imperator and performing for the former president. In fact, I was going to demonstrate the slate trick that Houdini fooled Roosevelt with, but I cut it from the show at the last minute because I didn't want to run long.

After Ken's talk the attendees walked a short distance to Farragut Square Park to watch Carnegie (me) and Denise present a Houdini-like show. Because this was my portion of the program I'll tell you what we had intended and I'll tell you what actually happened. We planned to present the first half of the show AS Harry and Bess. We had our period costumes, we also had the same music Houdini used along with some other musical selections from that era. I was even going to do the Houdini-voice! However, the circumstances didn't really feel right for such a theatrical approach, so on the fly, I changed to more of a historical presentation. I still did all the material just in a slightly different manner. Thankfully, I have a fantastic assistant who knows to expect these types of things when working with me.

Our show began with a quick, silent-to music escape sequence which started with a chain escape, a rope 'thing', and a single handcuff escape. The rope 'thing' is something I created a while ago and is actually part of a longer routine. It begins with a piece of rope about 3 feet long, dropped into a bag. My hands go into the bag and a moment or two later come out with my hands tightly bound! It's a cool moment and gets a nice laugh from the audience because they do not expect it. Next, I move on to the handcuff escape. In this instance a pair of Hamburg 8s were used. Boom, boom, boom, three quick escapes in under two minutes. NOT the way Houdini would have done them, but a nice way to present it for 21st Century audiences.

Next I share a bit about Houdini the King of Cards and presented the classic Cards Across. I chose this effect because it was one that Robert-Houdin presented and Houdini got his start in magic via the book, The Memoirs of Robert-Houdin. I figured it was very likely that Houdini presented this particular trick, even though I don't have definitive proof.

The next segment was the multi-handcuff escape. Truly one of the most painful things I've had to endure. You see, I have a medical condition which has me on blood thinning medication. This medication causes me to bruise easily. From several days of rehearsal, I ended up with multiple bruises up and down both arms. In fact, we had to drop three pair of cuffs because they would no longer fit my wrists due to the swelling. I was still able to get 6 pair of cuffs on along with a pair of thumbscrews.

Once I was all cuffed, I stepped inside my make-shift 'Ghost House', in other words a cloth cabinet, and proceeded to escape. I tossed the individual cuffs over the top of the cabinet after I was free of them. The last piece I removed were the thumbscrews, which I did in the open rather than inside the cloth cabinet.

I followed the multi-cuff escape with my routine which I call Chaplin. It's basically a story about how Houdini met a young Charlie Chaplin in England before Chaplin's rise to fame. In the story, Houdini helps Chaplin earn some money by playing a guessing game of sorts and he is rewarded if he wins. I've presented this hundreds of times and it's always a fun routine, though it is better indoors in a theatre setting.

The last item was a 100 foot rope tie. I got two volunteers out of the audience to help tie me up and well, I proceeded to escape.  The wonderful thing about this escape is, you never know just how people will tie you up. People always go about it differently, sometimes they start with the hands, sometimes, they wrap you up first, it's always interesting to see what choices they take. After about three minutes I was completely tied and it took me about 2 minutes to free myself.

Those two events, Ken Trombly's Houdini collection and my show, probably would have made for a perfect event. But there was one more thing yet to do. We all walked several blocks to the location of the old Keith's Vaudeville Theatre. The location is the corner of 15th and G St.. Today the spot is filled by The Old Ebbit Grill. But in Houdini's day it was Keith's Theatre. January 12, 1922, Houdini presented a hanging straitjacket escape from this location. It was his second straitjacket escape in DC but it's also his most famous due to the iconic photo of him hanging upside down in front of the building with the Treasury building on the far right and the Washington Monument off in the distance.

When we all arrived at the location, I spoke for 10-15 minutes about Houdini's escape and some of his challenge escapes he performed in D.C.. I also brought out an original program from Keith's with Houdini on the cover, along with a vintage postcard of the theatre. I took a few questions following the talk and we wrapped things up right there. Incidentally, if you go into the Old Ebbit Grill, the doors you walk through are the same entrance way that was used for the Keith's Vaudeville theatre. And if you walk to the back seating area you'll be sitting in the area that was the theatre auditorium itself.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Le Grand David: The End of an Era

It's truly over. With the final Le Grand David Auction on Sunday April 10th, and with the Larcom Theatre for sale, the end of the LeGrand David reign as one of the greatest magic shows to ever grace a theatrical stage is done. Actually, it was over when they closed the show a few years ago but now all traces of this incredible journey have vanished.

I have such a mixed bag of emotions about this. Let me state first, I fully support the efforts of the cast to sell off their show, theater and materials. They have every right to do so. It's awfully kind of them to allow some of us in the magic community and theatre community to enjoy these treasures. I'm so very glad my friends from the cast were able to make some money off these wonderful items while they were still alive rather than leave it till after they were all gone. I think Vincent Van Gogh sold only a few paintings when he was alive and for very little money. It wasn't until after he was long gone that the world realized the true value of his art. For the cast of Le Grand David, though they have profited from the sale of their theatre(s) and show, I don't think enough people have yet realized the true value of their art. Perhaps, no price tag can be placed upon such a thing.
There is another side of me that hoped the show would continue on. In some way, even after the first show stopped and the Cabot St. Cinema Theatre was sold, I hoped a new version would take off at the Larcom Theater. I hoped as the older members bowed out that a new generation would come in and take over the show. Perhaps taking it to places that the previous show had never gone. But reality and time got in the way.  The cast began this grand adventure way back in the 1970s and now forty years later,  it was time for them to seek a different path. They more than did their duty for king and country.

So why do I have visions of Cesareo with his arms crossed and a frown upon his face? Would he be upset with the members? If he could relay a message from the great beyond, would he tell them how sad he is that his nearly impossible dream that was brought to life is gone? Here is what I think, I think he would be a little sad, but he would understand. And would encourage his friends to seek out the best of life and live every moment fully aware that together they achieved what no one else could do. They were all true wizards in every sense of the word. I think he would encourage them to move beyond this chapter and find a new adventure, for themselves, whatever it might be.

I do think he is still standing with his arms crossed and a concerned look on his face however. Not because he is unhappy with his friends in Beverly. Because he is unhappy with the world of magic. So many have lost their way and forgotten the beauty and wonder inherent in magic.  His dreams therefor fall upon his disciples to carry on his vision to a new generation of theater goers. We who present stage magic, must pick up this magic torch and carry it forward so that the dream lives on.

And those of us who are collectors, we can remember them through the treasures they have allowed us to obtain through their two auctions!

The poster/painting (above) which was painted by Rick Heath with artistic direction by Cesareo, is now in the Carnegie collection (me). Below, you will see a hand painted Find The Lady stage card trick which is also now part of my collection. And from the previous auction, The Peacock Backdrop, The first Floating Tables, One of Cesareo's costumes, and The Sack Escape.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Larcom Theatre and Le Grand David

As of yesterday, March 31, 2016, The Larcom Theater in Beverly Ma. went up for sale. This was the second theater owned by White Horse Productions, the folks who put on the Le Grand David Magic Shows for 35 years. They owned both the Cabot St. Cinema Theatre and the Larcom.

Both theaters were built by the Ware brothers of Marblehead Mass. The Cabot opened in 1920, the Larcom opened in 1912. For a time the Larcom had both live theatrical events and films. By the 1930s they mainly showed films. But in 1984, the Le Grand David folks purchased the theatre and renovated it under the direction of Cesareo Pelaez, the company leader. In 1985, a second 2 hour production of stage magic debuted at the Larcom. Originally called Le Grand David in Concert, it was different from the Cabot Show. Only a couple of effects were duplicated, but even those, like the Broom Suspension, were presented in a different manner.

The 6,726-square-foot, 560-seat theater, located at 13 Wallis St., is listed at $699,900.

I still recall my first visit to the Larcom. It was during a whirlwind weekend visiting the cast and crew of the two grand theatres. My girlfriend and I were invited guests of Cesareo and we were enjoying meeting everyone. The show at the Larcom took place on a Saturday afternoon. That morning, we had already visited the Cabot Theatre, and watched some rehearsals and even participated in some juggling and dance classes. We were having a great time, but had to get ready to head over to the Larcom for the afternoon show. I assumed the show would be like the Cabot show, but boy was I wrong.

It's true they were both stage magic shows complete with illusions, hand-made costumes, incredible scenery all hand painted by company members, but there was a difference in the who shows. The Larcom show had a different feel to it. It was a tad livelier and brighter. The show at the Cabot had more grandeur and theatricality. Both shows were great, don't get me wrong, but this show at the Larcom had a profound affect on me. Much like the Cabot show from many years before, this show at the Larcom was like a shock to my system, a wake up call, if you will, to the potential of what stage magic could and should be.

While the audience was getting seated for the afternoon show, I was in the gallery of the Larcom, the basement area that they had converted over to a showroom for older illusions and props. I had been down there for some time with Cesareo and Rick Heath. But they had to go to get ready for the show and naturally, I had to get up to the theatre too before the show started!

When the show began, I was struck by the 
brightness and burst of color from the costumes. This show had a different pace from the original show. Perhaps the word festive would be a good description of the show.

Take a look at this one costume worn by Cesareo. Like the original show, there were tons and tons of
costumes and costume changes in the show. But this purple costume with this most unusual hat, is just the coolest thing. I'm not even sure what you would call this style. It screams WIZARD, but good wizard for sure. If my memory is correct, he wore this during the broom suspension routine at the Larcom. A very different presentation to the one featured at the Cabot, still, the same trick however. I honestly, do not remember if he wore this during any of the other routines. I kind of think not, because the members always changed costumes for each new routine.

I'm trying to remember, but I think it was the Larcom show where I saw David, Le Grand David himself present the Harbin Upside Down production box. This was something that David had built himself and to my knowledge is the only one in existence. I think there was an article about the Upside Down production box in one of the company programs at one point. Basically, it was a box with a handle on the top and the bottom had a flap/door that hung open. David would lift it up and reach under and inside the box and remove numerous items. It really was an unusual trick and a stunning piece of magic, and really a piece of magic history having been the creation of the great Robert Harbin.

My favorite routine in the show was The Orange and the Rice by Cesareo. Why? Because of his mechanical monkey! That little guy stole the show. Cesareo had the entire place in stitches with that routine and with that monkey. Last year, I purchased one of those mechanical monkeys for my own show. I named him Marco, after Cesareo's character.

The only real regret I have about that show was that I only saw it a few times. I wish I had seen it many many more times. The show at the Cabot is burned into my memory because I have a video of the entire performance given to me by Cesareo. Oh, to have one of the Larcom as well. Who knows, maybe David Bull will one day dig through the video archives and share this wonderful show with those who loved it and with those who had not ever seen it.

But for those interested in getting a piece of memorabilia from the show they are having an Auction on April 10th of the remainder of the Le Grand David items. This is your last chance to get a piece of history!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The First Time I Met Le Grand David

"The First Time I met Le Grand David..." These are the first words from a lengthy monologue delivered by Webster Bull during the Le Grand David Show at the Cabot St. Cinema Theatre. For some reason those words have been stuck in my head now for several days. I hear them over and over and my mind goes back to the first time I met Le Grand David.

It was many years ago now. In fact, it was in the early days of their show, in the early 1980s. I was just a kid. I had found out about the show through Genii Magazine. The ad above is the one that caught my eye. As it turned out my family was going to take a trip to New England to visit some friends and I mentioned to my Dad this magic show thing. He suggested we ALL attend, so 9 of us showed up at the box office in Beverly. Back then, there wasn't a whole lot to the town. It had seen better days. The theatre seemed to be the only life in the area. No one knew what to expect, even me to be honest.

Walking in the theatre doors, it was if the show had already begun. There were costumed characters in the lobby greeting people. Further down there was a puppet stage set up. There was a feeling of excitement even before the show began. I just soaked it all in.

When the show began, I was overwhelmed with the spectacle. There were elaborate costumes, beautifully painted props, and what seemed like tons of people on stage. Also, there were curtains and gorgeous backdrops. This was not like any magic show I had ever seen, though I had not really seen that many magic shows live. I had not even seen Doug Henning perform LIVE yet, that would still be a year or so away.

If you read the title at the lower left hand side of the ad above it reads "Le Grand David and his own Spectacular Magic Company". I assumed, the show was this guy Le Grand David. I had missed the part on the right hand side page that reads "Marco The Magi's production of..." So when I began watching the show, I immediately recognized Le Grand David, but the person who stood out was Marco the Magi. I remember the drive back to the house after the show, most of the talk was about this guy Marco. Why? His character was a wild man on stage. He was funny and extremely energetic. I remember his very theatrical Linking Ring routine. I remember that he performed what would become one of his signature pieces, The Floating Table by making the table float, and then he walked into the audience with the table floating against his fingers. And I believe Seth, the youngest member of the cast, also did the table floating along with him.

I don't remember every bit of the show, but I remember a lot. I recall being blow away by David's skill with the billiard balls. This was a trick that I was just learning at the time and I was dumbfounded at how well he handled the mystery. I think more than anything it was the smaller stuff that really fooled me. The stage illusions were great, but I was fairly knowledgeable about the inner workings of those things. I say that, but in truth, I really didn't know as much as I thought. Naturally, today, having performed many of those same illusions, I do know how they work, but back then, I'm not so sure how many I truly knew.

I can tell you this, when the show was over my head was buzzing. OH, but wait, I forgot to mention the intermission. So this show had an intermission, and everyone got up to get a refreshment or stretch their legs or use the rest room. Well, I got up and was standing in the back of the theatre by myself. I happened to look over and I see someone that I recognized, but had never met, Irene Larsen. I instantly wondered if Bill Larsen was there, they were married after-all, and sure enough he was. So I got to meet Bill and Irene for the first time! I had been writing letters to Bill for a while because he was editor of Genii and frankly, I didn't know many magicians, so I often would contact people via snail mail. I EVEN had a copy of Genii with me, and you know what, it didn't even occur to me to have them sign it! I had David Bull sign it, but I didn't even think to have the editor of the magazine sign it! Oh the brain of a child, lol.

Around my birthday in August of that year, the new Genii came out and lo and behold who was on
the cover but Le Grand David! It took Bill two issues to fully cover his experience at the show. In fact, he wrote "Seeing Marco the Magi's production of Le Grand David and his own Spectacular Magic Company was the most exciting magical evening I have had since I first saw the Dante Show."

I never forgot that first visit to Beverly. Years later, I would send a letter to Cesareo telling him about my first visit there and he replied by inviting me and a guest up for the weekend to enjoy the show all over again. Enjoy it I did. In truth, the second visit to Le Grand David changed my life. I have never been the same since. It was an extremely positive experience and becoming friends with the company has been a bonus. I'm certainly not a close to them as some folks in the magic world, but I have always felt a bond, thanks to Cesareo and David and Rick Heath and Avrom and Ann and other members of the Le Grand David Family.

Oh, incidentally, that magic show also changed the life of that town. When I returned to Beverly years later, the downtown area was a thriving place with shops and stores and many restaurants. The show and theatre  breathed life back into that area, and that magic show is what breathed life into many of us fellow magi.

On April 10th, Kaminski Auctions in Beverly is holding the second Le Grand David auction. If you're a fan of the show you have a chance to pick up something to remember the show by. There is not as much in this second auction, but there are certainly some very nice pieces.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Unique Houdini Event in Washington D.C.

On April 16th, Atlas Obscura is sponsoring an event called Houdini Escapes DC. It's a historical look at Houdini's time in Washington, complete with artifacts from the collection of Ken Trombly, a walking tour of some of the sites Houdini himself had visited and then a show/demonstration of some of Houdini's magic by Dean Carnegie (me).

I have written a lot about Houdini's visits to Washington. And I've visited all but one of the sites where some historical event took place. The one that I have not gone to is the 10th Precinct Police Station, which you can read about here. The only reason I've not gone by is it's still a working Police Station and I don't want to just barge in an disturb them. I'll eventually try and make an appointment to see the station and hopefully the cell that Houdini escaped from.

Many of the buildings connected to Houdini are long gone. Keith's Vaudeville Theatre, Chase's
Theatre, The Gayety Theatre, The Rialto have all been torn down and replaced. However, you can still go to the actual locations. The best spot, in my view, is Keith's Vaudeville Theatre which was directly across from the Treasury Building. This is now the location of Old Ebbit's Grill. Back on January 12th 1922, Houdini hung upside down in front of Keith's performing one of his classic straitjacket escapes.  The location of the theatre is very close to the White House. And there is a story of President Woodrow Wilson sneaking into the theatre to catch Houdini's show in the 1920s.

There are many great stories of Houdini's DC visits, many of which will be covered during the walking tour I'm sure. As for my part of the event, the recreation of some of Houdini's magic. I currently am planning on doing some rope escapes, a challenge handcuff escape, an escape from a pair of thumb screws and other escapes. In addition I'm going to 'teach' a member of the audience how to escape from a rope using mind over matter. I'll be doing a little bit of card magic because Houdini began his career as The King of Cards. I'm also planning on finishing the show with an interactive routine involving all the participants. Though the final thing is not something Houdini did, I feel it's a great way to give the attendees a hands-on magical experience and a perfect way to end the day. I've got a few additional surprises that I'm working on as well, but those I'll keep secret until the event.

It's sure to be a fun day. Space is LIMITED, so if you're interested in attending, go to the Atlas Obscura site to get your tickets. Oh, by the way, if you visit their site, you'll notice a photo of ME in the header. Behind me in the photo is a bridge. I don't know if the folks who chose this photo were aware, but that is a bridge that leads into Budapest, the birthplace of Houdini.